By Mark Compton
True or False: Mining makes every aspect of your life possible.
It really is true, though most people never think about the pivotal role mining plays in their daily lives. Mined products are key to the advanced, technological, comfortable and more healthful existence we enjoy.
Think about it. Try to name one thing you did today that wasn’t made possible in some way by mining. You were awakened at your home (mined) by an alarm (mined) and got out of bed (mined). You showered (mined), brushed your teeth with toothpaste (mined) and put on your clothes (mined). You hopped in your car (mined) and drove on roads (mined) to your place of business (mined) and immediately checked your email on your computer (mined). Well, this could go on all day, but you get the idea.
Mining is a unique industry in that it is the basis for our entire way of life, yet few people ever give it a second thought, much less consider its significance. That needs to change.
Every year, the average American uses hundreds of newly mined minerals. It is relatively easy to visualize that we need mining for items such as cars, televisions, computers, cell phones and even our national security. New hybrid cars use twice as much copper as cars powered by gasoline alone — electric cars even more. Computer chips are made from as many as 60 different minerals or their constituent elements. And the U.S. Department of Defense uses more than 750,000 tons of minerals annually.
But, did you know mining also helps feed the world? Today’s farmers are working on a shrinking agricultural land base to grow the food needed to feed an ever-growing world population. From the farm machinery they use to the fertilizers that improve food production, mining makes modern agriculture work.
We all know that average life expectancy is rising, made possible by tremendous advances in medical science. But did you stop to think that mining makes those advances in modern medicine possible? Lifesaving medical devices require minerals and metals — and lots of them. As just one example, a CAT scan machine contains a variety of minerals, including tungsten, copper, lead, silver, chlorine, aluminum and gold. Mining truly is the beginning of the supply chain for the healthcare industry.
Demand for minerals in our advanced society is increasing every day. Minerals are essential to developing the innovative technologies that will propel our economy, enable America to compete globally and improve our quality of life. They are the building blocks for the manufacturing, construction and automotive industries, and are vital to growth in fields such as advanced energy and healthcare.
We assume the things we need and want will always be there. But the bottom line is: without mining to provide the foundational minerals and metals for the things we use every day, our society would be much different.
It is more important than ever for the U.S. to responsibly utilize our own mineral and energy resources. In fact, it is a national imperative. But to become a national priority, as a society we need to make the connection between mining and our quality of life. And our quality of life in the U.S. is good.
We take for granted in this country that the lights will go on when we flip the switch and that our heating and cooling systems will keep us comfortable. But the fact is, as many as half the world’s 7 billion people live without proper access to energy for basic human needs.
Like food and water, energy and minerals are essential. Yet, electric heat, lights, refrigerated food and medicine — crucial for basic needs that many take for granted — are still unavailable in many parts of the developing world.
Eliminating extreme poverty here at home and abroad will require lots of minerals and affordable access to energy. To satisfy the world’s energy needs will require an “everything, everywhere, all the time” approach to energy generation, including coal, gas, oil, nuclear, hydropower and renewables. Using today’s advanced technologies to improve emissions, all of these forms of energy development will play a significant role in ending global energy poverty and raising the standard of living for everyone.
Our modern society runs on energy. Think for a minute about the relationship between mining and the energy we demand and consume. From the coal mined in Utah that accounts for the majority of our state’s electricity generation, to the uranium used to power our nation’s nuclear energy reactors, to the copper, molybdenum, iron ore, lead, zinc and other important metals and minerals that make renewable energy possible, mining is critical to energizing our modern society.
And here in Utah, energy plays a meaningful role in our state’s economic development. Utah is well known as a business-friendly state, with a low burden of regulation and low cost of doing business. But we must keep in mind that one of Utah’s significant advantages to attracting businesses, including manufacturing and high-technology jobs, is our low cost of electricity. Simply put, cheap power lowers business costs and makes Utah more competitive.
Fortunately, the U.S. possesses extensive domestic reserves of many important mineral resources, if we are able to access them. Mines can only be located where economically viable mineral deposits exist, so the ability to access mineral deposits is critical.
And if we are able to access the deposits, the ability to permit projects in a timely manner becomes an important component to attracting mining investment in the United States and in Utah. Considering the foundational importance of the mining industry to our way of life, these are issues that deserve our attention.
Mining creates new wealth and provides the high-paying, family-wage jobs with good benefits that Utah and our country needs. In fact, mining jobs in Utah pay twice the statewide average wage.
Today’s safe and environmentally responsible mining industry is vital to the state of Utah, our economy and quality of life. It always has been and always will be. The mining industry is not some distant, corporate entity. It is woven into the fabric of our society and our daily lives. We are all connected to the mining industry and we all have a vested interest in making sure the industry thrives in Utah.
Pres. Abraham Lincoln once declared, “Utah will yet become the treasure house of the nation.” More than a century and a half later, Lincoln’s vision is a reality and we are all better off for it. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that.
Mark Compton is the president of the Utah Mining Association.